Hearing, not seeing, is believing

We had a guest preacher this morning, Rev George Samiec, who (in the course of an excellent sermon) made an interesting point concerning the resurrection accounts in John 20.

Taking as the theme “seeing isn’t believing”, Rev Samiec argued that for each appearance (or non-appearance, in the case of John), what is crucial in bringing John, Mary and Thomas to faith is not what they see, but the word:

  • For John, the word of the scriptures: seeing the linen wrappings from Jesus’ body would not in itself lead to faith in the resurrection, but for John it lead to the “penny dropping” about what the scriptures had been telling them: “for as yet [i.e. until this point] they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead”.
  • For Mary, the crucial moment came when Jesus spoke her name: “Mary”.
  • For Thomas also, it was not seeing the risen Jesus that prompted Thomas’ confession of faith (“My Lord and my God!”), but Jesus’ words spoken to him: “Do not doubt but believe.”

The point is that it is the same word by the same risen Jesus that brings us to faith today. Even though we cannot see him, Jesus is still present and still speaks to us, above all through his ministers in the preaching of the gospel, in baptism and in the Lord’s Supper.

I wonder if we can go a little further, though, and see specific allusions in John 20 to the word and sacraments as testimonies of the resurrection:

  • For John, the reference to the role of scripture is clear: as we’ve already seen, the sight of the abandoned linen wrappings makes him realise what the scriptures had been telling him all along about the Messiah: “that he must rise from the dead”.
  • For Mary, I wonder if we can see here an allusion to baptism. There are four references to her weeping, and perhaps one reason she was unable to recognise Jesus was for the tears in her eyes. And then Jesus addresses her by name, just as baptism is the sacrament in which Jesus addresses each of us by name as individuals. The water of Mary’s tears was not enough without the word of Jesus, just as baptism is “not just plain water”, but the water “combined with God’s word” (Small Catechism).
  • Then for Thomas, the emphasis on Jesus’ sacrificed-and-risen flesh and blood calls to mind the Lord’s Supper, where we “reach out our hands”, not to put our fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hands, but as an act of faith (“My Lord and my God!”) to receive Jesus’ body and blood under the bread and wine.

Scripture, baptism and the Supper – word and water, bread and wine – remain for us, as for the first disciples, signs given:

…so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

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3 Responses to Hearing, not seeing, is believing

  1. Rick Ritchie says:

    Quite convincing account of John and Mary. I’m still mulling the Thomas passage. I’ve seen him used both for and against the use of evidences for faith. And the passages on both sides don’t budge. Leaving us in some middle area that will sometimes disappoint both apologist and fideist. The passage creates trouble, and passages that do so are often the ones you can learn the most from.

    The pointing to the Word and Sacraments for us is right on target. Our sermon was preached by our associate minister who pointed out our very understandable reasons for doubting. Followed by our reasons for believing. The senior pastor, then, took the next step before communion and pointed from the passage to the Sacrament. This is where we are invited to touch. (Though not to see.)

    I like your title, too. Reminds me of Luther’s “The ear, and not the eye, is the organ of the Christian.” It’s also much better than the principle I read in a Christian comic book as a kid, “Believing is seeing.” (They used this optical illusion to illustrate: http://www.dailycognition.com/content/image/14/pic-blivet.jpg. Didn’t illustrate very well! I still don’t get their point.) Which sounds like some first principle that could lead to all sorts of bad conclusions.

  2. joel in ga says:

    That’s a very powerful insight. Coincidentally (providentially), before seeing your post, I had just read a reference to 1 John where the Spirit, the water, and the blood are mentioned.

  3. allan says:

    you could go further but I believe not a lot of peopel would be able to understand everything.

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